A frosty February night in 1998 found me inside the old Stockyards Inn to sleuth a story about a little known gathering of adult wannabe magicians.
That’s where I met the Spokane kid I dubbed “Magic Boy.”
Dave Womach, his given name, stood out among the elder lightweights of legerdemain for a couple of profound reasons.
First off, he was just 14 years old. Second, he had actual skills.
In a blink, Magic Boy could take a deck of cards and cut it one-handed with either paw. His sleight-of-hand moves were mature beyond his youth, and as he performed he maintained that fluid patter common to all magicians not named Teller.
I didn’t have to consult Kreskin to sense the undercurrent in the room. Some members were jealous of this wunderkind.
During a lull, I asked the lad what he hoped to do with his, um, hobby. In a deadpan tone, Womach told me he had found his life’s calling and planned to one-day dazzle the world.
You know what? I believed him.
We are transported 20 years and change into the future. The young magician I’m proud to call a friend is 35 and doesn’t answer to Magic Boy any more. Or Dave Womach, not when he’s plying the presto-chango trade.
Some years ago while touring the globe, Womach adopted “David DaVinci” for a stage name.
He performs with his wife, Jamie, who fills the iconic role of beautiful magician’s assistant.
The Womachs have a 5-year-old daughter, Capri. Sandpoint is home when they’re not on the road, which is less often than not.
As of late, DaVinci/Womach has been billing himself as no mere magician, but a “thrillusionist.”
“Beyond reality – just short of insanity,” his website explains. “…Not just an illusionist, but a thrill-seeking, mind-bending master of prestidigitation who creates an alternate world of fascination with gravity-defying hair and leather pants (required).”
I give you Exhibit A, the over-the-top stunt Womach attempted in Sacramento last month on behalf of an organization devoted to curbing veteran suicides.
That was the motive. The madness was to set a new Guinness world record by escaping the confines of a straight jacket while being suspended upside down from a hot air balloon floating 10,000 feet above sea level.
I know. Who knew there was an old record?
Even so, exiting a straight jacket certainly beats that disgusting “how many hotdogs can you shove down your pie hole?” path to Guinness notoriety.
The current straight jacket dangling mark, by the way, is 7,200 feet above sea level. Womach told me that over breakfast at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Hotel on the morning he and Jamie took off for California.
“There’s not a lot of oxygen to breathe at that altitude,” warned the Thrillusionist. “Hypoxia can set in.”
Jamie laughed and looked at me. “I probably should’ve asked some of the questions you’re asking before I signed on for this.”
I wasn’t too worried about Womach not achieving such a high-minded goal. Besides being a pro magician, he’s got a lot of other things going for him.
Womach is a skydiving fanatic with 160 jumps to his credit. He can also hold his breath for 3-plus minutes, something he trained himself to do while free diving in deep water between shows at a Saipan dinner theater.
And as for shedding a straight jacket?
Don’t make me laugh. Womach nailed that old chestnut ages ago while working for the brothers Ringling. According to his resume, he set a record by escaping a straight jacket 220 times over a span of eight hours.
As it turned out, however, some things are still beyond a magician’s control.
The September record attempt never got off the ground thanks to the balloon pilot, who scrubbed the mission due to an air inversion.
“The weather to me looked perfect, but I’m not a hot air balloon pilot,” said Womach. “He said the balloon can accelerate too quickly and he cancelled.”
Don’t complain. Buddy Holly’s pilot should have been so careful.
Anyway, Womach tried his best to hire an alternate sky ride, but no soap. He found a willing helicopter pilot, but no available copter. They’d all been conscripted in California’s eternal War on Wildfires.
But the show, Womach vowed, will go on in early November in the skies above San Diego.
Here’s the thing about making it in magic: You need as much talent for hustling as you do for sawing volunteers in half.
Womach was bitten by the hocus pocus bug at age 4, when he hijacked the magic set his older brother received as a Christmas present.
He had the business side going before he could legally drive, booking his act at middle schools, birthday parties and special events.
He paid a Seattle magician 100 bucks for the tuxedo the man wore when he was 16. While other teenagers were worshipping Michael Jordan and other sports stars, Womach was idolizing the likes of Lance Burton, Jason Byrne and David Copperfield.
Young Womach built his own props. He bought and trained three doves – Elvis, Houdini and Fluffy – to be part of his act.
And what an act! A month after I met him at the Spokane Magic Club, Womach invited me to his home and performed his entire show on the custom stage he and his father, Dan, built in the basement.
Soon he was on his way, winning a gold medal from the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians competition and a Master of Magic Award at the 2005 International Magic Festival.
It’s been quite a ride since those Spokane Magic Club meetings at the Stockyards Inn: thousands upon thousands of practice hours; hundreds upon hundreds of shows at arenas, theaters and enormous wave-rolling cruise ships.
Two years ago, the Womachs’ renown for training birds caught the eye of the aforementioned Copperfield. The Vegas superstar hired the couple to teach two macaws and four toucans to be part of his show.
The job came with a rare bonus: A 10-day vacation at Musha Cay, Copperfield’s private-island resort in the Bahamas.
Spokane-area magic fans fortunately won’t have to travel so far. The man formerly known as Magic Boy comes to town on Oct. 16. David DaVinci will take over The Bing to amaze and thrill you.
“I’d be lying if I said that every moment has been a golden road,” Womach said. “But I pour my heart and energy into everything I do.”
Doug Clark is a Spokane native and lead singer/songwriter for his band, Trailer Park Girls. He recently retired from The Spokesman-Review after writing three columns a week for more than 30 years. Clark’s humor and general-interest commentaries have won scores of local, state and regional honors along with three awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected]